On The And: Honouring the Legacy of Sir Robert Cohan CBE

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Guest artists from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, the Royal Swedish Ballet School, Yorke Dance Project and the former Richard Alston Dance Company perform works by the late choreographer plus there is a filmed performance from the Martha Graham Dance Company

Royal Swedish Ballet School- Credit: Tilo Stengel

Legendary choreographer Sir Robert Cohan is an artist whose influence on the UK contemporary dance landscape is immeasurable. His legacy will be honoured in an evening of his choreography at The Place on 24 and 25 March.

In 1967, whilst a dancer and co-director with the Martha Graham Company, Cohan was invited to London by the philanthropist Robin Howard to become the founding artistic director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and London Contemporary Dance School. This pioneering set up became the beating heart of the UK contemporary dance scene. Cohan is remembered as someone who shaped the lives of generations of dance artists. He was a powerful advocate and a much-loved teacher as well as an influential choreographer who was creating new work until the day he died aged 95 in January 2021.

The dance happens on the and” is something Cohan could be heard to say whilst counting “and one, and two…” as he choreographed or rehearsed dancers. For Cohan the and stressed the importance of being present in the fullness of the movement and the moment. The phrase was carved in stone as his memorial epitaph.

The programme for the evening features two seminal London Contemporary Dance Theatre works from the 1970s and three newer works created for Richard Alston Dance Company and Yorke Dance Project in 2015 and 2019. The works will be performed by guest artists from those companies as well as the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and the Royal Swedish Ballet School.

Dancers from the Rambert School will perform a section of Cohan’s 1975 work Class, a piece based on the exercises of a dancer’s daily class conceived by Cohan as a way into contemporary dance technique for new audiences. The re-staging of the work is being overseen by former members of LCDT Paul Liburd MBE and Darshan Singh Bhuller along with additional coaching by former company dancers Linda Gibbs and Anita Griffin.

Also choreographed in 1975, Stabat Mater, performed by dancers from The Royal Swedish Ballet School, is a visceral response to Vivaldi’s score of the same name. Nine women dancers, representing parts of Mary’s experience by the cross, move with a circling tenderness that feels very private. The Royal Swedish Ballet School first re-staged this classic work with direct input from Cohan and the guidance of former LCDT dancer, Anne Donnelly (Anne Went), Associate Professor and current Director of Dance Programmes, Middlesex University. 

In 2013, Cohan returned to London from France where he had lived since the ’90s and soon began working with dancer and choreographer Yolande Yorke-Edgell. He created Lingua Franca for Yorke Dance Project in 2015; it was his first new work in over a decade. Informed by Agora, a 1984 work for LCDT, Cohan viewed the piece from a new perspective, interweaving and contrasting the unique physical language of each dancer.

In 2015, Cohan created Sigh for Liam Riddick which was performed as part of Cohan’s Middlesex University professorial inauguration and at his own 90th birthday celebrations at The Place. A soaring pliant solo, Sigh is set to Edward Elgar’s Sospiri. Riddick was then a dancer with Richard Alston Dance Company and Sigh was taken into the company’s repertoire.

2019’s Communion is the sixth work Cohan created for Yorke Dance Project. Minimalist, ritualistic and joyous, the piece is set to an ambient score by Nils Frahm. Dane Hurst performs his powerful solo from the piece.

A filmed section of the duet from Cohan’s Forest performed by dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company will help to round out the evening and pay homage to Cohan’s Graham roots.

Lighting for the evening will be under the supervision of Cohan’s long-standing creative associate, John B. Read.

These evenings will launch the Sir Robert Cohan Dance Legacy CIC (RCDL) a new organisation formed to manage and support performances of Cohan’s works, sponsor workshops, seminars and master classes and engage in a broad range of activities honouring Cohan’s significant legacy as an artist. The RCDL Board of Directors includes Roy M Vestrich (Chair), Anne Donnelly and Darshan Singh Bhuller.

Listings information
On The And: Honouring the Legacy of Sir Robert Cohan
The Place
Friday 24 and Saturday 25 March at 7.30pm
17 Duke’s Road, London WC1H 9PY
Box office: 020 7121 1100 / https://theplace.org.uk/events/spring-2023-robert-cohan-event-on-the-and
Tickets: £30 (£20 students)
Running time: 90 minutes

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